Mark Twain? Eleanor Roosevelt? Mary Schmich? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain said something about doing at least one thing each day that you should do despite the fact that it makes you feel uncomfortable. I do not remember precisely how the expression was phrased. Here are two pertinent statements:
Do something every day that you don’t want to do.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Would you please determine what Twain said?
Quote Investigator: In 1897 Mark Twain released a travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and the fifty-eighth chapter presented the following epigraph. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.
Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. So, Twain was the actual creator of the advice given above.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
This quotation from Twain falls within a family of thematically linked sayings which were examined in an article on this website here. Performing a series of constructive actions that you dislike or fear can catalyze your personal growth and success. Consider the following adages:
1) Always do what you are afraid to do. (1841) —Popularized by Ralph Waldo Emerson
2) Do something every day that you don’t want to do, (1897) —Mark Twain
3) You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (1960) —Eleanor Roosevelt
4) Do one thing every day that scares you. (1997) —Mary Schmich
Here are some additional details for the quotations listed above.
In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson published an essay titled “Heroism” which included a pertinent adage although Emerson disclaimed credit for the maxim’s authorship: 2
Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
In 1897 Mark Twain published “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World” which included this suggestion as noted previously:
Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do.
In 1960 Eleanor Roosevelt published “You Learn by Living” with a chapter titled “Fear—the Great Enemy” which included a discussion about overcoming fears: 3
The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
In June 1997 the Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich published a column titled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young”. Her column became very popular; it was transformed into a song, and it was even incorrectly attributed to the author Kurt Vonnegut. Schmich included the following nugget of advice: 4
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
In conclusion, Mark Twain wrote the advice presented in the 1897 citation given above. Thematically related sayings have been crafted or popularized by other well-known individuals.
Image Notes: Portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt created by an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Portrait of Mark Twain from Appleton’s Journal of July 4, 1874 via Wikimedia Commons. Image showing part of the cover of the 1897 edition of “Following the Equator” by Mark Twain.
(Great thanks to Suzy Ryan whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks also to Mary Schmich for personal communication about her quotation. In addition, thanks to Dave Hill who asked about this family of sayings. Hill runs the website “WIST: Wish I’d Said That!” which presents a valuable collection of quotations and citations.)
- 1897, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), (Chapter 58 Epigraph), Quote Page 549, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut; Also Doubleday & McClure Company, New York. (Internet Archive) link ↩
- 1841, Essays by R. W. Emerson (Ralph Waldo Emerson), Essay VIII: Heroism, Start Page 247, Quote Page 262, James Fraser, London. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 1960, You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt, Quote Page 29 and 30, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1997 June 1, Chicago Tribune, “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young” by Mary Schmich, Page 4C, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest) ↩